The current devastation of the second wave of Covid-19 isn’t something that can be chalked down completely to the fault of the government in charge. It takes years of neglect and incompetence to end up in a situation this terrible. This article traces how the deep-rooted systemic issues in India have acted as a catalyst for the virus to run rampant and destroy the lives of millions.
“These hospitals are old, shackled buildings, with cockroaches and rats in Operation theatres and ICUs, and poor, debilitated, archaic equipment in the wards.” These words perfectly encapsulate the morbid condition of the Indian Healthcare system. Whether it is the lack of resources, room or professionals, Indian Healthcare is on its absolute knees. These are issues that go beyond the inadequacies of one government and have been the mainstays of our country since its very establishment. No government has ever invested the needed amount into the public healthcare system, treating it like a neglected child.
The overwhelming failure of our healthcare system in this pandemic was unprecedented, but not unexpected. For years medical professionals have been raising alarm bells over how an epidemic-esque situation could crumble public healthcare. The public hospital infrastructure is not up to scratch to deal with a medical emergency of this proportion.
Not only is there an acute shortage of beds and other life-saving resources, but there is also a lack of available professionals. India has one doctor for every 1456 people in the country and 8.5 hospital beds for every 10,000 people. The number of nurses and hospital staff available is also far from the required amount.
Pitifully poor family planning and a lack of awareness regarding the same have led to a population boom in India like no other. India’s population currently stands at 1.36 Billion people. That is a population density of 411 people per square kilometre. These statistics paint a very clear picture explaining the rampant spread of the coronavirus in India. Delhi alone is one of the densest populated cities in the entire world, making it an ideal breeding ground for a coronavirus-type contagious disease.
One would think that not having enough resources would be the biggest problem a country would have to deal with, but as it stands, even if India has possession of life-saving resources, it doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure to transport it to the people who need it at a fast enough pace.
The spread of the virus and its mutants is quite natural. It was predicted by the specialists and experts that the second wave is going to destroy more than expected but the pace at which it has spread in India is enough to shatter the (so called ‘prepared’) Indian health administration. It is believed that the general public is also the concrete reason why the cases have been rising at such a rapid pace. By breaking the laws, disregarding the policemen, not following lockdown regulations and by taking this pandemic seriously; it would not be wrong to say that the commoners have invited this massive wave that now seems to be unstoppable.
The health ministry is trying its best to take the situation under control but the statistics have a different story to tell. The central state shift of control is also one of the reasons why we haven’t been able to follow one straight protocol to fight the virus. Not just the health department, the central government, in general, seems confused when it comes to governing the coronavirus. The central government is expected to do way more than what it pretends to be doing. It is understandable that the situation cannot be magically transformed into our favour but the government still has control over a lot of aspects. The government has the control over the allocation of funds, the government has the control over regulating the supply of essential commodities; there is no explanation for the increased export of oxygen by 700% when India’s residents are dying due to lack of the same. The government literally preferred economy over lives.
The sad reality
The general public is feeling helpless and the apprehension is real. The state is in dire need of some regulated, well-functioning but hard-working and reliable administration so that there is some ray of hope in the middle of dense darkness. These are the times when the government should come forward making people realize that the administrative officers are public servants in a true sense and they should try their best to save their land from the biological outbreak. During this gruelling phase, the government must ensure adequate compensation for the frontline workers and it is the duty of the same to fulfil the basic physiological needs of the poor who lost their jobs in the middle of this disaster, which it definitely is not. Instead, rallies are being organized and political agendas are fulfilled without fail.
The cheap methods of politics are still practised to win votes rather than actually working for the welfare of the public and dominating the elections in the true sense. Corruption and favouritism are still healthy when half of the country is dead. It is safe to assume that humanity has died with democracy when it comes to Indian Politics.
Profiting off of Indian Lives
This is where another key element leading to the demise of the system comes into play, the ease of black-marketing and cartelization. Given the lack of supply and overblown demand, people are ready to pay exorbitant prices for these life-saving resources, which is where cartelization comes into play. Everyone from private individuals to certain government officials have engaged in the hoarding of resources such as Oxygen Cylinders and certain drugs only to sell them at a price 4-5 times what they normally cost. The low mobility of resources has made taking hold of them for people with connections similar to taking candy from a child. All of which comes at the ultimate expense of us, the people, and even more so the people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and as it so happens, those people make 20% of this country’s population.
The rural-urban divide is widening. There are only 0.36 hospitals for every 1 lac people in rural India, while urban areas have 3.6 for the same. The medical facilities are ten times more effective and efficient in the urban areas and the fact that almost 70% of the total population lives in rural areas is simply devastating. Public dispensaries, health centres and community clinics are in terrible condition and as the matter of fact, have always been like this. An urban resident’s quality of service is nowhere close to what rural citizens have access to. Even if the public healthcare system is not the strongest, private players can always come up as saviours. But as rural areas are not modernized, the per capita income is quite low as compared to urban demographics and other such factors present a strong argument why there are very less amount of private hospitals (especially speciality hospitals) are located in rural districts, as the private hospitals run with an unofficial aim of profit maximization and they don’t see enough scope in rural India.
The private hospitals and black marketers are exploiting the commoners as these industries are backed by the darker side of the government’s officials. Health is an industry that should not be allowed to be capitalized but the reality is often disappointing. The private players have been heartlessly exploiting the patients, or customers in the name of medical fees. The health sector is the one that plays a major role in producing human capital. It is able to grab public expenditure worth only 3.7% of GDP which is a bit less for a huge developing democracy. Price ceiling and marketing restrictions are the only hope to save Indian health infrastructure; otherwise, low-quality public infrastructure and a grandiose private health system are going to soon become a major concern.
The brave essential workers on the frontline fighting this pandemic have been reduced to 'Sacrificial Workers'.
COVID-19 has exposed this gaping and infected wound in our healthcare system to the world, and still, instead of focusing on fixing the problem, the government is looking to hush the criticism.
-Prabhpreet Singh and Keval Dholakia